Ukraine has been in the news for the past month. The country has been almost at the mercy of Russia amid the latter's relentless attacks in what has now become a full-scale invasion. This isn't to say that Ukraine hasn't done a lot of fighting of its own, but the country has had a lot of help along the way.
One of its biggest helpers has been Starlink - the internet connectivity project launched by Elon Musk's SpaceX. Ukraine's internet is in danger of being cut off amid a broader infrastructure damage, but Starlink is apparently hoping that Ukraine can stay online as long as it needs to.
The Origin Of Starlink’s Involvement
For now, it's unclear whether Starlink had plans for Ukraine before Rusia's invasion of the country began. However, as soon as the invasion was in full scale, Musk was quick to lend a helping hand. Mykhailo Fedoro, Ukraine's Minister of Digital Transformation, made an appeal to Musk to bring Starlink satellites to Ukraine, pleading that a lack of internet facilities could cripple the country as it hoped to defend itself.
A few hours after Fedoro had reached out, Musk replied that Starlink's service was now active in Ukraine, with additional satellite terminals expected to get to the country.
Internet facilities are critical in a war-torn country. Without access to the web, Ukraine's defense efforts would be knocked out of coordination, and communications both within and outside will be hampered. As expected, Russia's attacks have focused on the internet and other key infrastructures in Ukraine.
According to a report from internet monitoring group NetBlocks, several disruptions have already occurred across Ukraine - including and especially in the country's capital city of Kyiv. And with the country still being under attack, Starlink has come out to be a major source of relief.
Speaking to CNBC recently, Starlink's president Glynne Shotwell explained that they were very proud of the work done in Ukraine. Shotwell was unable to provide an exact count of the number of satellites sent to Ukraine. However, she claimed that the French and Polish governments had provided some funding for the transportation of the satellites.
Propping Up Ukraine’s Military
The importance of Starink was also highlighted in new reports, which claimed that the satellite company is now helping Ukraine's military with drone strikes. The Telegraph reported that Ukraine's army is successfully using Starlink for drone attacks on Russian tanks and other strategic positions. This is especially important in areas in Ukraine where infrastructure has been damaged, and facilities are very low in supply.
Aerorozvidka, a portion of Ukraine's army focused on aerial reconnaissance, reportedly uses Starlink to track and coordinate unmanned aerial vehicles. This allows soldiers to fire anti-tank weapons with improved accuracy. For now, Starlink has also been able to improve stability in communication across the country.
Speaking with The Times, an officer with the Aerorozvidka unit explained that Starlink had also been useful for cross-team communications.
"We use Starlink equipment and connect the drone team with our artillery team. If we use a drone with thermal vision at night, the drone must connect through Starlink to the artillery guy and create target acquisition," he said in part.
The Times also reported that the Aerorozvidka team handles about 300 information-gathering missions daily. They've chosen to carry out drone attacks at night because their drones are almost unrecognizable in the dark.
Risks Attached To Starlink
Starlink's critical nature in helping Ukraine's defense has been nothing short of impressive. But, the internet connectivity system has also come with its own risks. There is a long history of countries using satellite signals to target and locate their enemies, and Russia could also use Starlink to improve tracking accuracy for Ukrainian forces.
Musk himself has weighed in, saying on Twitter that Starlink remains the only non-Russian communications system that works in some parts of Ukraine at the moment. This means that there's a high probability of Russian forces targeting the satellites, so users will need to be careful.
The billionaire went on to advise that Ukrainians should "turn on Starlink only when needed and place antenna away as far away from people as possible," as well as to "place light camouflage over antenna to avoid visual detection."
It has so far been a great outing for Starlink in Ukraine. The internet connectivity service now has a reputation for helping out in a countrywide crisis and actually being useful. While there are definitely risks, Starlink's impact on this conflict can't be overlooked.